Developer: Capcom / Publisher: Capcom / ESRB: Teen (Blood, Use of Alcohol, Violence) / Played on: Wii / Price: $42.20
Gather, ye brave warriors — hunting season is open! It’s time for another “Video Game Review” here on Machinima.com. I’m Chris Lockey and today we’re taking a look at Monster Hunter Tri, the third console installment in the beloved fantasy series from Capcom. Sharpen your blade and prepare yourself for level-grinding glory!
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Monster Hunter Tri tells the tale of Moga Village, a spirited shanty town of merchants and merrymakers. As earthquakes begin to shake the peaceful land, you emerge as the village’s deadliest warrior. Your exploits as master of the hunt quickly earn you a reputation as the go-to guy for valuable resources — the likes of which can only be found in the hostile environs of the surrounding prehistoric wilderness. You’ll harvest rare herbs, acquire exotic specimens, and go head-to-head with some nasty beasties to loot their treasured entrails.
There isn’t much of a narrative at play in Monster Hunter Tri. As the eponymous hunter, you’re presented with a series of quests that run the gamut from old school step-and-fetch missions to epic monster slaying safaris. In turn, you’ll use the various resources from slain monsters to upgrade your armory. Whether you cash in the raw materials or commission the village smithy to create new weapons and armor is entirely up to you. Either way, you’ll be grinding away for the Guild to stat-up your gear in favor of more traditional, character-driven advancement.
But you don’t have to hunt alone. When you’re ready to take a vacation from the Village life you can join in the hunt with other guild members by stepping into the City, the lobby for Tri‘s online cooperative servers. There, you can manhandle monsters with up to three other hunters. And if that’s not enough for you, a series of Arena quests will also present you with additional challenges and treasures. Although there isn’t much traditional storytelling in Monster Hunter Tri‘s series of unrelated quests, it’s loaded with endless hours of hack-and-slash mayhem guaranteed to keep you busy.
Monster Hunter Tri’s action adventure gameplay is pretty cut and dry. Hack-and-slash sensibilities and an intuitive combo system dominate the combat mechanics. You have five weapon sets at your disposal, including the Great Sword, Sword (with shield), Hammer, Lance and Bowgun. Each of these weapons comes with its own nuances — the pros and cons of which significantly alter the way you approach equipping your character. It’s worth a trip to the Arena to get acclimated to different sets of weapons and armor before squandering your hard-earned resources on cumbersome equipment in your solo campaign. In particular, the slow heft of the Great Sword and Bowgun can be daunting in early stages of the game.
Unfortunately, your choice of equipment isn’t the only source of awkward gameplay in Monster Hunter Tri. The balance of hack-and-slash and step-and-fetch make for a game that feels like the bastard child of Fable and Pokémon, cribbing the surface features of both but lacking the polish of either. The gameplay is far from fluid. Monster hunting becomes a labor of clunky action and over-responsive character animations. And after an hour or two of foraging for randomly generated resources that don’t quite spawn when they should, you may find a game that’s surprisingly absent of both action and adventure.
This is without a doubt one of the best looking games on the Nintendo Wii. Monster Hunter Tri boasts “gorgeous new environments and dynamic, living ecosystems”. Considering the limitations of the console, I was thoroughly impressed that they delivered on both accounts. The pre-rendered cinematics feature sweeping vistas and detail a fantasy setting worthy of hours of exploration. Unfortunately, these sequences are few and far between. Despite this, the actual gaming environments are a worthy low-res representation of the breathtaking establishing shots.
The game’s graphics owe a lot to gameplay innovation. The addition of underwater adventuring and combat is a crucial step forward for the franchise, and some of Monster Hunter’s most visually rewarding sequences are those quests that inhabit this dynamic environment. The character animations of the seafaring creatures are among the best in the game, and I was particularly thrilled by the emergence of the game’s formidable big boss: The Lagiacrus. This serpentine menace is huge, nasty, and is easily Monster Hunter Tri‘s hallmark.
There are a few shortcomings. Some design elements lack adequate variation — including the dino-inspired monsters of the game’s namesake. And the frequency of bad polygon clipping is absurd. But Monster Hunter Tri still looks great. This game looks so good for a Wii title, you can imagine how bummed out I was when it didn’t deliver any story to match the gorgeous fantasy scenery.
The sound of Monster Hunter Tri falls somewhat short of its graphics. Similar to the teases of the highly engaging cinematic sequences, your adventure is littered with snippets of some of the most engaging adventure music I’ve heard in ages. But these short cues are more like soundbites and can only be heard briefly at a quest’s beginning or end. Music is practically nonexistent during gameplay, which is a discouraging revelation for any gamer planning to hunt monsters for hours on end.
The game’s other sound elements are adequate. NPC dialogue is delivered by way of word bubbles, and character voices are simple, mumbled expressions made friendly for international appeal. The lighthearted soundscape features just enough ambiance to complement the game’s environments. Monster Hunter simply lacks the ubiquitous fantasy score to place it in league with adventure classics like Fable, Dragon Quest and the Legend of Zelda
Monster Hunter simply “tried” my patience. The beautiful presentation was demolished by the game’s aggravating controls and frustrating fetch-and-step structure. It does emerge as the only game of its type for the Wii this season, so it’s not hard for me to understand how it’s so well received by fans of the series. Yet, despite the fun co-op escapades it offers, the gameplay is sloppy, choppy, and can’t compete with other A-List titles in this genre. Monster Hunter Tri scratches an action adventure itch — but it only scrapes the surface by standing on the shoulders of giants.